As a last-minute surprise in what might have otherwise been a business-as-usual episode, the PTP Podcast was graced this week by the company of Mike “Timex” McDonald, who joined us to talk about his new business Pokershares. This is a site allowing users to bet on the performance of poker players – famous or unknown – in any tracked tournament, online or off, as well as other poker-related proposition bets. Joining Alex and Andrew alongside Mike is new PTP writer Lorin Yelle, a long-time online pro specializing in short-stacked cash games.
The episode’s original main story was going to be the last iteration of the Man vs. Machine contest, pitting top human poker professionals against the world’s best no-limit Hold’em AI, now a bot called “Libratus.” This topic turns out to dovetail nicely with the Pokershares story, as the match in question has been one of the most popular bets on offer so far.
Other topics which come up include the sustainability of live poker, Mike’s current feelings about the game and his plans for the future, and a recent tweet by Patrick “Plenopads” Leonard suggesting that PokerStars satellites are no longer beatable. The episode wraps up with a strategy lesson from Lorin, on his approach to short-stacked play.
Intro to Pokershares (0:00-4:57)
After a brief introduction to the episode, we launch straight into grilling Mike about his new endeavor. Alex has more to say about some of the other topics and so cedes the stage to Andrew and Lorin to interview Mike, who explains the basics of what his new site is about: Allowing people to bet on essentially any poker-related proposition they like.
Man vs. Machine (4:57-16:33)
Although the ongoing human vs. AI battle was intended for later in the episode, it turns out that this is one of the things generating a lot of betting action on Pokershares. Lorin wants to know how the line was set, which leads into a discussion of the strength of Libratus versus previous bots and how to gauge that.
How is Poker Like Cancer? (16:33-23:08)
In the course of researching his article on the Man vs. Machine challenge, Lorin learned that the developers see tackling poker as a stepping stone towards using AI to solve more important problems like cybersecurity and medicine. Mike is dubious that there’s a connection between solving poker and curing cancer and Alex attempts an explanation for how that is.
Back to Pokershares (23:08-31:18)
Not much time was actually spent on Pokershares before conversation digressed to the Man vs. Machine competition, so the group decides to return to that topic for a bit before moving on.
Bank of Timex? (31:18-38:45)
Pokershares is the logical extension of an earlier intitiative of Mike’s, the “Bank of Timex,” which he initially launched to make a point about pros charging excessive markup. Andrew wants to know more about the transition between the two, and to check out various rumors he’s heard, though these are denied by Mike. The question at the root of Andrew’s inquiries is whether Mike is still making large amounts of money off of pros who overestimate their win rates, and Mike says he is not.
Less Money, Fewer Fish (38:45-46:33)
In answering Andrew’s questions, Mike has explained that the better pros are now smarter and more self-aware than they once were, and the worse pros no longer have enough money to bet on themselves much. Andrew brings up poor attendance at the recent PokerStars Championship Bahamas (formerly the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure) and wonders if money is drying up in general. He wonders whether Super High Roller tournaments are sustainable; Mike thinks they are, but the profit margins will likely be quite small in future.
The Pro Edge (46:33-51:18)
Andrew brings up the relatively high margins Mike and his team have set on Pokershares for top-notch players like Fedor Holz in the High Rollers and Super High Rollers. Mike responds that although the game has gotten much tougher, the skill ceiling is much higher than middle-of-the-pack players would like to admit, and the very best players may in fact still be crushing the field.
Getting Out While the Getting’s Good (51:18-1:00:28)
The discussion of pro edges leads Mike to open up about his feelings about his own game. He says that he would feel bad becoming a middling player, yet recognizes he doesn’t have the same ambition and work ethic as some newer pros. Pokershares is therefore the beginning of a move in a new direction, with the intent of making poker a serious hobby rather than a career. Discussion ensues about the pros and cons of dedicating oneself to a specific discipline and how that relates to personality and relationships.
Unsolved Satellite Mysteries (1:00:28-1:19:50)
Patrick Leonard, aka “Plenopads,” recently tweeted Sharkscope graphs showing that his win rate at PokerStars satellites had switched from consistently profitable to very unprofitable in a short span of time. Looking at other players that he considers good, he found that they too showed significant losses in satellites in 2016, even while crushing conventional MTTs.
Several ideas are floated, including collusion, change in game demographics, tracking anomalies, or simple Iack of relevant skills on the part of the players being considered. Ultimately, the conclusion is that the most likely scenario is a problem with the data.
Strategy: Short Stacking (1:19:50-End)
Quizzed by Alex, Lorin talks first about the advantages of short-stacking, and how he got into it. In fact, the decision was largely down to necessity, as in his early days he was committed to being aggressive both in terms of moving up in stakes and in multi-tabling. That meant stretching his bankroll to the limit, and playing with less than a full buy-in at each table to avoid disaster. It was only later that he discovered that others were investigating short-stacking as a valuable strategy in its own right.
Following this backstory, the conversation turns to strategy. In stark contrast to the Man vs. Machine ideal of unexploitability, short stack play against other humans turns out to hinge in large part on allowing one’s opponents the maximum leeway to make large mistakes. Lorin’s experiments in how to do so make for an out-of-the-ordinary but rather enlightening strategy segment.